Maldives government to open up islands to foreign buyers

July 25, 2015 2:38 am

 

A view of the beach on Athuruga island on May 25, 2012 in Athuruga, Maldives. Photo / Getty Images

Maldives’ government has passed a law which will, for the first time, allow foreigners to purchase land.
But the new law has a sting in its tail. Decision by the Maldives government to open up islands to foreign
buyers has sparked fears that China is poised to seize a foothold in the
Indian Ocean

The
constitutional amendment bill, passed by the Maldivian parliament on
Wednesday, states that investors must spend at least $1 billion (£640m)
to own land on one of the 1,200 islands in perpetuity. Furthermore, 70
per cent of the land must be reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.
And
the conditions imposed have sparked fears that the bill is designed to
clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which
straddles vital international east-west shipping routes. China has
expertise in reclamation technology and can easily make investments of
that size.
India, which considers itself the regional superpower,
is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area – which it
considers to be within its sphere of influence.

Eva Abdulla, an MP of with the opposition Maldivian
Democratic Party, said she feared the nation could become a front line
for a potential power struggle between India and China.
“We can’t ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China,” she said.
“What
is in our interest is peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. India is
our neighbour and we are not a country in the South China Sea,” she
said referring to China’s dispute with several countries over claims to
the area.
Ahead of the vote, President Abdulla Yameen’s half
brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – the country’s former leader – had urged
further public debate on the controversial move.
“I have appealed
to (the) president to seek public opinion on proposed constitutional
amendment re land ownership before ratification,” he tweeted.
Anand
Kumar, a strategic affairs analyst at the Institute for Defense Studies
and Analyses in New Delhi, agreed that the law could help China gain a
foothold in the Indian Ocean.
“They have been creating islands in
South China Sea, and they will try to replicate the same exercise in
Indian Ocean,” he said. “They tried to do the same thing with Sri Lanka.
It appears that since they have lost political influence in Sri Lanka,
they are trying to regain the same ground in Maldives.”
The
government has said the move would not threaten the Maldives’
sovereignty and was needed to attract large-scale foreign investment for
projects.

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